Formula One is back!
That’s right, the pinnacle of motorsport is back with the 2018 Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park in Melbourne to start the 2018 Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) Formula One World Championship, and after a year where Lewis Hamilton won his fourth world championship, and broke Michael Schumacher’s record for most pole positions in Formula One, as well as Mercedes winning their fourth-straight Constructor’s World Championship, can Hamilton win his fifth world championship, and Mercedes their fifth-straight Constructors’ World Championship.
Looking at testing, Mercedes look like they have the best car once again in Formula One, with some estimates suggesting that they are around half a second quicker than anyone else! However, testing results can be deceptive, so it will be interesting to see if they can keep that kind of advantage over their rivals.
Talking about their closest rivals, Red Bull and Ferrari are Mercedes closest rivals again, with Red Bull looking to have marginally the better car in comparison with the Ferrari. Both Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen will have high hopes of realistically challenging for their first world championship, but will need better reliability from their TAG Heuer (Renault) power-unit in 2018 if they are to have any hope of challenging Hamilton and Mercedes.
Ferrari also look okay, perhaps not as good as what they were at the start of 2017, but Sebastian Vettel was at his brilliant best throughout the majority of last year, but a number of issues, including the front wing damage on the opening lap in Canada, his brain fade in Azerbaijan, a tyre puncture at the British Grand Prix, Ferrari’s inability to be strong at Monza, the first lap carnage in Singapore, mechanical issues in qualifying in Malaysia, and more mechanical issues in Japan really cost Vettel any hope of winning the championship.
However, Vettel managed to finish second in last year’s championship ahead of Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas, but will be looking to get Ferrari into a position to end their 11-year Drivers’ Championship drought, and along with Kimi Räikkönen, end their 10-year Constructors’ Championship drought.
If there is to be a surprise in 2018, it may well come from Haas, who have a Ferrari power-unit, and have two drivers who on their day can perhaps challenge for a race victory in Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen.
Grosjean has had 10 podiums in his Formula One career to date, with nine of those coming across 2012 (three) and 2013 (six), with his last one coming at the Belgian Grand Prix in 2015, three years after causing that massive Turn One incident which got him suspended for the next race, an incident which involved Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, Sergio Pérez, and Pastor Maldonado.
However, Grosjean has well and truly come a long way since then, and you would expect him to lead Haas’ charge, along with Magnussen, who of course finished second on his Formula One debut at Albert Park back in 2014 after Ricciardo was disqualified for a fuel regulation infringement, but hasn’t come close to a podium since! If Haas have a decent car, as I suspect they have, they could really challenge for high point-scoring finishes, and perhaps the odd podium in 2018.
Behind those four teams, it appears to be a close midfield battle between Renault, McLaren-Renault, Williams-Mercedes, Force India-Mercedes, and Toro Rosso-Honda, with the order of these five teams in Melbourne will be determined by the overall strength of their car, their power-unit, and the developments they have added to their cars since testing, while Sauber-Ferrari look like they are going to bring up the rear of a strong 20 car field.
There will be many changes as well that you will see in 2018, including the ‘halo’, which should provide a great safety benefit despite it being unaesthetically pleasing, and the addition of the superhard and hypersoft tyres, although we won’t be seeing those tyres at Albert Park, with the ultrasofts, supersofts, and softs being the choice of Pirelli for the opening round of 2018.
However, the biggest change will be the start times of races, starting 10 minutes past the hour, and starting an hour later at most European races, as well as at the Brazilian Grand Prix.
So, who will win the 2018 Australian Grand Prix, and maybe the 2018 FIA Formula One World Championship?
As much as I see Red Bull and Ferrari both putting up a very consistent challenge for the championship, I cannot possibly tip against Mercedes, and while Bottas was strong in his first season with the team, I just cannot see him beating Hamilton in both the Australian Grand Prix and the championship.
In my mind, Hamilton to win over Bottas, with Vettel to grab his 100th podium in Formula One ahead of a fighting Ricciardo in fourth.
Friday 23rd March
Practice One: 12:00pm to 1:30pm
Practice Two: 4:00pm to 5:30pm
Saturday 24th March
Practice Three: 2:00pm to 3:00pm
Qualifying: 5:00pm to 6:00pm
Sunday 25th March
(All times are AEDT)